Wednesday, December 23, 2009

ASOC in Berlin 2009: Berliner Zeitung review

I spent the last nine days with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus in Berlin, where we performed Brahms' "Ein Deutsches Requiem" with the Berliner Philharmoniker. Our Sunday performance was broadcast live online via the Philharmonic's digital concert hall, where it lives on in the archive as well, so I plan to check that out myself soon -- people I know who watched gave the experience and the concert good reviews.

In the meantime, I thought I would exercise my usually dormant German skills, which were awakened over the past week, and have a go at translating some of the reviews (with the help of LEO, of course). There were a few thorny parts, but I gave it my best shot. Here's the most recent one, from Tuesday's Berliner Zeitung:
Brahms "Deutsches Requiem" at the Philharmonic
Martin Wilkening

At the Philharmonic, Donald Runnicles is the man for musical mass-spectacle. After Britten’s “War Requiem” and the Grand Death-Mass from Berlioz followed Brahms' "Deutsches Requiem" this weekend. And as with the previous musical requiems, the chorus of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra was again guest performer, with nearly 200 members a mammoth organism of nevertheless astonishing flexibility.

The singers are non-professional, which brought this performance its own direct and somewhat uneven tone-color from the outset – just as the sheer number of participants did. The declamation of the text was not only perfectly understandable and as good as accent-free, but furthermore possessed a moving simplicity and naturalness, without overly sharp consonants and without exaggerated accented individual words – in and of itself a clear two-dimensionality, as fits the expression of such a large mass of voices. This concept found its strongest moments in the quiet singing, whereas the choir’s sound sometimes lost its compactness when it got good and loud.

Runnicles moved the massive sound-apparatus with unagitated aplomb. His direction, as economical as it was insistent, consistently held the singers and instrumentalists effortlessly back in an inwardly animated piano. Both soloists sang hauntingly: effortless and flexible, Gerald Finley sang nobly, the soprano Helena Juntunen with a somewhat stereotypical tremolo. The connection between Brahms’ Requiem and the first half of the concert remained incomprehensible. “Traces,” from New York composer Sebastian Currier, here receiving its world premiere, came into being as a co-commission of the Philharmonic foundation and the Grand Teton Music Festival in Wyoming, of which Runnicles is the music director. One doesn’t have to use Brahms as a standard for all things musical – but a somewhat more substantial piece would have been more appropriate than Currier’s mellifluous five-movement concerto for harps and a rather small orchestra, which on the one hand indulged in sketchy, fragmented tune-painting, on the other articulated his thoughts with penetrating diffuseness that so predictably followed one after the other: the triad to the microtonal chord and vice versa, the appealingly mysterious expanse of tones to the contemplative melody, and the other way around. That Marie-Pierre Langlamet, the orchestra’s solo harpist, is an exceptionally gifted musician was only superficially apparent.

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